Qatar’s foreign minister responds to questions on his country’s hosting of the World Cup, including campaigns targeting the Gulf state.
Campaigns calling for the boycott of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are “hypocritical” and disregard Doha’s reform, the Gulf state’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told France’s Le Monde.
“The reasons given for boycotting the World Cup do not add up. There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved. They are being peddled by a very small number of people,” Sheikh Mohammed told the French outlet, in an interview published on Friday.
The senior Qatari diplomat’s remarks come just weeks ahead of the major sporting event’s kick off date, with Doha facing growing scrutiny from the press, mainly in the west.
Qatar made history in 2010 when it became the first Arab country to win a bid to host the FIFA World Cup. However, it has since endured a slew of attacks from the western world, many of which target its treatment of migrant workers.
Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as well as other top Qatari officials have repeatedly slammed “racism” behind the campaigns, especially since they have continued to emerge despite Qatar addressing concerns and launching major reforms.
Last month, the amir described the campaigns as “ferocious” and “malicious” and questioned intentions behind the criticism.
Echoing similar sentiments, Sheikh Mohammed also cited racism. Speaking to Le Monde, the Qatari diplomat said he came across recent commentary that accused Qatar of not being “intellectually and culturally ready” to host the World Cup.
“Is such racism acceptable in Europe in the 21st century? Football belongs to everyone. It is not reserved for a club of elites. Four hundred and fifty million Arabs are delighted that the World Cup is finally being held in their region,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Last year, various European countries doubled down on scrutiny with the launch of a campaign to boycott the World Cup. These include Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. However, despite this, ticket sales have spiked in Europe.
“The reality is that the world is looking forward to this celebration. Over 97% of the tickets have been sold. Among the ten countries that bought the most tickets, we find European countries like France,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Aside from the ‘Boycott Qatar’ campaign, the #PayUpFIFA campaign has also been featured prominently in western media.
The campaign calls on Qatar and the global footballing body to compensate migrant workers who experienced human rights violations in the Gulf state.
Commenting on the campaign, Sheikh Mohammed said “the fund already exists and has proven its value”, noting Qatar has disbursed $350 million last year alone.
“This money went to employees who were deprived of their wages and whose companies are now facing court cases, to employees who were injured at work or to cases of work-related deaths. This mechanism works very well. So why should we duplicate it?” he said.
In a follow up question by the French outlet which cited a meeting with a woman in Nepal whose husband died without being compensated, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar would be prepared to assist.
“You can lead us to these cases, and we will guide them to the fund,” he said.
Over recent years, Qatar has doubled up its efforts to protect workers by partnering with key global rights organisations, including the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO).
“We recognised the problems with workers’ welfare. We even invited NGOs to come and observe our system. We have come a long way in reforming our legislation. Such reforms take time. This is true for any country; it is not unique to Qatar, said Sheikh Mohammed.
However, while reforms have been deployed, some companies have continued to violate labour laws nationwide.
Sheikh Mohammed assured authorities are determined to fix existing flaws, however pointed to what was described as “systematic” blame towards the country itself rather than individual companies found to be in violation of the laws.
“Why do we systematically blame our government for these problems, whereas in Europe, the slightest incident is blamed on the company? Why this double standard? I think there are some people who don’t accept that a small country in the Middle East is hosting such a global event,” he added.
The ILO opened its first office in Qatar in 2018 to assist with and overlook efforts by authorities to improve the local work environment. This included the introduction of mass labour reforms that dismantled the controversial Kafala system.
In 2021, the region’s first non-discriminatory minimum-wage law also came into force, which established a monthly minimum wage of QAR 1,000. The law also includes the basic living allowances for select workers.
Employers who fail to comply with the law face a one-year jail sentence and a QAR 10,000 fine.
Asked whether the minimum wage amount is little when compared to Qatar’s overall GDP, Sheikh Mohammed said it “is proportional to the cost of living in Qatar”
“The amount is proportional to the cost of living in Qatar, the level of prices and the size of the Qatari economy. This minimum wage is enough to live a decent life,” he explained.
While reforms have been made, Qatar has come under scrutiny for migrant worker deaths linked to World Cup construction. This was heightened when The Guardian published a controversial piece last year headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup”.
The article had linked the “shocking” death rate to the start of Qatar’s World Cup journey.
The reported figure had referred to deaths of workers from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh without providing a thorough investigation into their cause of death, as well as the alleged association with the sporting event.
Last year, Qatar’s Government Communications Office (GCO) said the report was “a far cry from reality” that failed to clarify the reasons behind the deaths.
Responding to a question over precise figures related to migrant workers’ deaths, Sheikh Mohammed explained that Qatar gathers and publishes detailed data every year. The figures include age, gender, cause of death and type of employment.
“Every death is a tragedy,” noted Sheikh Mohammed.
The Qatari official said most of the deaths recorded “are not work-related” and rather “reflect the demographic structure of Qatar”.
“We are currently reviewing this data to get an accurate figure for work-related deaths. What is clear is that the figures cited by the media are false or misleading,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
In November last year, the local health ministry (MOPH) and the ILO signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate in data collection to better address work-related injuries and deaths.
The agreement came as a swift response to an Amnesty report titled “Reality Check” as well as a recent ILO report, both of which revealed gaps in data collection regarding expatriate workers’ injuries and deaths.
With Qatar being the first Arab host nation of the World Cup, some of the some 1.5 million football fans are likely to be visiting the region for the very first time.
Commenting on what Le Monde described as “the clash of cultures”, Sheikh Mohammed reiterated that Qatar’s people are “very welcoming”.
“The entire world is welcome in our country. All we ask is that fans respect our laws, just as we are expected to respect yours when we visit you,” he said.
This week, the Guardian reported that UK officials will deploy special policemen to Qatar to “deconflict” situations out of concern that England fans would unintentionally provoke local law enforcement during the World Cup.
Commenting on the potential “confusion” in cultural differences for some English fans, Sheikh Mohammed stressed that Qatar ensures the protection of everyone nonetheless.
“The World Cup in Qatar is like any other sporting event in the world. Qatar has a friendly relationship with these countries, in Europe, in South America and we are working with them on security,” said Sheikh Mohammed.
“We are one of the safest countries in the world, and this World Cup will be one of the safest in history,” he added.
Last month, Australia’s national football team published a video in which several players spoke out against Qatar’s hosting of the tournament, citing human rights in the Gulf state.
The video also acknowledged Qatar’s progress and credited authorities for initiatives launched as well as legislation over the last decade.
Asked how Qatar would react if players spoke out during the World Cup on issues not related to sports, Sheikh Mohammed said he hoped the tournament would be a celebration to discover his home country.
“Our people are very hospitable and tolerant. If players want to express their opinion, they will be free to do so, we will never stop anyone from expressing themselves,” he said.
Qatar’s hot climate
Meanwhile, the Le Monde interview also addressed concerns over Qatar’s hot climate – a contentious topic that pushed footballing authorities to change the schedule of the World Cup. For the first time in its history, this year’s FIFA World Cup will instead be plated during the winter season to avoid the Middle East’s hot summer season.
While the changed November-December schedule is a lot cooler, the World Cup’s organising body has prioritised the issue when designing and building all eight stadiums for the tournament.
“Temperatures in Qatar in November-December are almost cooler than the temperatures in Europe during the summer. So, air conditioning will not be used.
“But think about the fact that some European stadiums are heated during the winter. That does not pose a problem. So why is it a problem that our stadiums are air-conditioned, even though the technology used is more modern and has a smaller environmental impact?” said Sheikh Mohammed.
Some of the state-of-the-art stadiums built specifically to host thousands during the World Cup will be dismantled post tournament and reused in other countries to provide facilities for countries in need of sports infrastructure.
“The difference is that there is a perfect alignment between the infrastructure we have built for the World Cup and the infrastructure the country needs…all other stadiums will be used after the World Cup,” he said.
“Our ambition is to do things that bring people together and unite them. Sport is an important tool to achieve this goal. Our country is ready to host major sporting events. The World Cup is just one example of this,” said Sheikh Mohammed.